Measuring Computer Use Norms

23 Pages Posted: 19 Oct 2015 Last revised: 17 Nov 2016

Date Written: November 16, 2016


Unauthorized use of computer systems is at the core of computer trespass statutes, but there is little understanding of where everyday people draw the line between permissible and impermissible computer use. This Article presents a study that measures lay authorization beliefs and punishment preferences for a variety of computer misuse activities. Though perceived authorization is strongly predictive of punishment preferences, many people view common misuse activities as unauthorized but not deserving of any meaningful punishment. Majorities also viewed as unauthorized many activities — such as ignoring a website’s terms of service, surfing the news while at work, or connecting to a neighbor’s unsecured wireless network — that scholars have argued are implicitly licensed. This divergence between perceived authorization and desired punishment presents a challenge for the trespass framework.

Keywords: Social norms; cybercrime; psychology and law

Suggested Citation

Kugler, Matthew B., Measuring Computer Use Norms (November 16, 2016). George Washington Law Review, Vol. 84, No. 6, 2016, Available at SSRN: or

Matthew B. Kugler (Contact Author)

Northwestern University - Pritzker School of Law ( email )

375 E. Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
United States

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